It’s the clothes, stupid

Nir Boms and Shayan Arya

The Washington Times

The nuclear issue, rising inflation, unemployment and a failing economy ought to occupy the time and energy of the Iranian leadership and the agenda of the Iranian government. Yet, it appears that little is being done to tackle any of these issues. Perhaps this is because other more urgent issues appear to fill the political vacuum. It is not the economy! It is the clothes, stupid!

Iranian police have recently arrested 49 people for what Mahmoud Rahmani, head of police in the northern city of Qaemshahr, described as “western-style clothes and haircuts.” In a statement following the arrests, Rahmani claimed that “police confronted rascals and thugs who appeared in public wearing satanic fashions and unsuitable clothing,” reports the Telegraph. Rahmani explained this move by saying that Iran’s enemies would like to deprive the country’s youth of a decent life by promoting foreign cultures.

Last year the Islamic regime banned women from wearing boots. To the astonishment of many Iranians, Police chief, General Ahmad Radan, announced the ban and added that boots could only be worn if they were covered by pants. Radan continued by saying that “if boots are not covered by pants that fall to the ankles, they show the female shape and therefore are in contradiction of the Islamic dress code.” Neda, a 24-year-old resident of Tehran, we are told by Radio Farda, was recently detained by police for wearing a white coat, a color that the morality officers found unsuitable. She complained that “nothing satisfies morality police officers” and wondered if they should have more important things to deal with. Well, we wonder as well.

The Islamic regime’s obsession with imposing its so-called Islamic dress code is nothing new. Women in Iran are required to cover their heads and wear loose-fitting clothes to hide their bodies. Men are not allowed to wear so-called Western-style T-shirts and spiky hairstyles. Ever since its inception in 1979, banning western-style clothes has been a major source of headache for the regime and a constant source of tension in Iranian society. In the same token, rejecting the official dress code has quickly turned into a sign of active resistance to the regime.

Had it not been for the thousands of innocent women who get into trouble and get harassed by the security forces of the Islamic regime, it would be hilarious to think that all these elaborate security apparatuses of the Islamic regime have nothing better to do than to decide how women should wear their boots! But apparently that is the way of the Islamic Republic of Iran!

But while Islamic officials were warring about Satanic (Western-style) clothes, thousands of university students were occupied with something else. All across the country they have been demonstrating to mark Student Day, commemorating a student march that was stopped by police some 50 years ago. Despite a heavy presence of police and security forces, students inside the university managed to break down a barricaded gate and let others flood into the grounds last Sunday. In the University of Tehran over 3,000 students held a rally, with banners proclaiming “Death to the dictator” and “Democracy in Iran – International Peace,” forcing the Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei to cancel his pre-announced and scheduled visit to the University. Khamenei’s visit to Alm-o Sanat University, where Ahmadinejad studied and then taught, was likewise cancelled without any official explanation.

Faced with the collapse of oil prices, rising unemployment, double digit inflation, a restive youth population, an unprecedented budget deficit, economic sanctions and in the midst of the worst global financial meltdown and international isolation – one cannot help but wonder about the logic of the Islamic regime’s obsession with clothes. Is it a diversionary tactic to draw its population’s attention from the real and important issues that are at stake? Is it another attempt to strengthen the revolutionary spirit?

Judging by the students at the University of Tehran, who forced the Supreme leader to cancel his planned visit to the university; these tactics appear to be losing their magic touch.

Albert Einstein once described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. This advice should be given to the Iranian regime regarding this set of policies – but it should also be given to those who try to engage with the Islamic regime in Iran.

U.S. president-elect Obama said on Sunday, Dec. 7, that he intends to “ratchet up tough but direct diplomacy” with Teheran and make clear to Iran that its development of nuclear weapons would be “unacceptable”. It would be great if he would add the way that the Islamic regime treats its own people to the list of its “unacceptable” behavior.

Nir Boms is vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Shayan Arya, a member of Constitutionalist Party of Iran, is associate researcher at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.

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